Memory plays more tricks on us than Penn & Teller combined. After the passage of enough time, it becomes as unreliable as a Ford Pinto. And sometimes, just as dangerous. The following is a true story to the best of my addled recollection. The fact that it occurred many decades ago only increases its allure of mystery even as it decreases its credibility.
For reasons that elude me to this day, every few years my parents wedged us all into the family station wagon and made the long drive to Florida to visit my aunt. I can’t even begin to imagine how my mother and father survived those trips. Why would anyone, of their own free will, drive more than 1,000 miles over two interminable days with three sons who probably hastened the need for the ADHD diagnosis? We bounced around that vehicle’s back and way-back like electrons on amphetamines.
Our road trips came before the days of portable entertainment devices and we were too restless for passive activities such as books or radio. Our primary means of passing the time was incessantly attacking one another then appealing to Mom or Dad for justice that was as futile as the discipline they tried to impose. Another diversion was reading the countless “South of the Border” signs (“Pedro’s Weather Report: Chili Today, Hot Tamale”), which seemed to us to stretch from Connecticut to the resort’s South Carolina location.
We usually split the trip into two supposedly more manageable segments by spending a night in the cheapest, i.e. sleaziest, motel in North Carolina. (If you think sleazy, motel, and North Carolina is a redundancy, you’re not far off the mark. One of those joints could justify a story in itself. More than likely, it will.) By the time we staggered into my aunt’s house, we were in need of sleep and therapy.
This was called a “vacation”.
My aunt was widowed before I was conscious of such fundamental matters as death. To my prepubescent mind, she was just an old woman to whom I was somehow related. My innate ignorance of anything outside my proper skin excluded any need or desire to understand that she was my father’s sister. It didn’t occur to my self-absorbed state that my father had parents, never mind brothers or sisters.
The old girl had been alone for as long as I could remember. She dealt with her solitude by engaging in a series of polygamous – but purely platonic – canine and feline relationships. We had never encountered an adult who was anything like her. She was as uninhibited as she was eccentric. None of the descriptors for “grown up” applied to her. More appropriate labels were boisterous, spontaneous, and extravagantly loving. And, of course, we adored her for it all.
A stay at my aunt’s was a treat for us boys. Besides goofing around with her, it also meant long days at the beach, exploring the most unappetizing dining establishments on the east coast of Florida, staying up late, playing with the pets du jour, and lots of yelling. The reason for the increased volume is that, in addition to her many other virtues, she was almost completely stone deaf. We had to use our “outdoor voices” to have any hope of being heard.
Thus we spent many fun and carefree days. Nights, on the other hand, were less pleasant. The good news is that we slept through them. Most of them.
This is the story of The Night I Woke Up.
To be continued…